The First Wireless Message from England to Australia: 100th Anniversary

The first direct Wireless Message from England to Australia was successfully transmitted in darkness and daylight, across empty oceans and a wide land expanse, on Friday September 22, 1918, exactly one hundred years ago yesterday.  The wireless transmitter station was located near Carnarvon in Wales and the receiver was located in a private dwelling in Wahroonga, a suburb of Sydney in the Australian state of New South Wales.

The longwave wireless signal was transmitted from Carnarvon at 3:15 am and it was received in Sydney Australia at 1:15 pm.  Due to the fact that longwave propagation is best along a pathway of maximum darkness, it is suggested that this historic wireless signal traversed more than halfway across the globe via the Atlantic, across the Americas and then across  Pacific for a distance of 13,700 miles.

The Carnarvon wireless station was installed near Waunfaw, some seven miles southeast from the royal city of Caernarvon in northern Wales in the year 1914 by the Marconi company of Chelmsford.  The 3600 ft long aerial system was atop 10 steel masts each standing 400 ft tall on top of Cefndu Mountain in Snowdonia. 

The entire antenna system was beamed towards Montreal in Canada for TransAtlantic communication, not towards Sydney in Australia, and its natural wavelength was 5600 m (53.6 kHz).  However, a wireless tuning system enabled the station to transmit on the even lower 21 kHz.

When the station was completed in its early era, it contained a total of six transmitters arranged in pairs; 2 synchronous alternating current transmitters at 300 kW each, 2 continuous wave transmitters also at 300 kW each, and 2 arc transmitters at 200 kW each.  Electrical power was derived from the local hydroelectric power distribution system.  The receiver station was located at Towyn on the coast of Wales some 40 miles south from the transmitter station.

The AWA Managing Director in Australia, the Englishman Sir Ernest Fisk, made a return visit to England in 1916 for the purpose of discussions with Marconi and others for direct wireless communication between England and Australia.  During the following year, he received approval from the Royal Australian Navy in Sydney to erect a wireless station with both transmitter and receiver at the AWA staff housing facility located at "Logan Brae" on Station Street in the Sydney suburb of Pymble.

The allocated callsign for the Pymble wireless station was an AWA callsign, AWY, and frequent tests were conducted  with the large AWA transmitter station located at outer suburban Pennant Hills.  On several occasions during the year 1917, station AWY in Pymble heard wireless signals from England, though no real communication was achieved.  In addition, AWY also often heard wireless transmissions from the high powered German station at Nauen, near Berlin,;and this, during the Great War, as it was called back then.

In December (1917), station AWY was transferred from Pymble and reinstalled in Sir Ernest Fisk's own home, "Lucania", at the corner of Stuart and Cleveland Streets in Wahroonga, in Sydney's upper North Shore.  A combination receiver, made up of a crystal receiver together with three stages of battery-powered valve amplification, was installed in a large back room at ground level in the home.  Likewise, wireless transmissions from England were often heard at this new location, though no direct transfer of messages was achieved.

The antenna system, consisting of two wires 100 ft long and three feet apart, was strung from a square wooden tower 80 feet high in the southeast corner of the home property to a mast in the northwest corner of the property.  This antenna system was suspended high above the house itself.

For several days in advance of the planned inauguration date, reception tests were conducted at station AWY in Wahroonga to discover the optimum time of the day for the best reception of a wireless signal from England.  On the auspicious date, Friday September 22, 1918 a large group of dignitaries including newspaper representatives was invited to arrive at the Fisk home around noon. 

Awaiting a time of successful reception in Australia, were two VIP messages at the Marconi receiver station at Towyn on the west coast of Wales.  These messages had been lodged at the Central Telegraph office in London and they were then transmitted across the telegraph wire system in England to the Marconi receiver station located at Towyn in Wales.

On that auspicious day, September 22, 1918, the two VIP messages were tapped out again in Morse Code at Towyn beginning at 3:15 am and sent via the telegraph network over the intervening 40 miles to the high power transmitter station near Carnarvon.  With a spark power of 200 kW and a frequency of 21 kHz, the transmitter at Marconi's station MUU thrust the signal out across the Atlantic towards Montreal in Canada. 

However, the beam width was sufficient for reception in Australia, and apparently this very first transmission in Morse Code was decoded in Australia.  Actually the prearranged procedure was for station MUU to transmit the same message every hour on the first quarter hour, and at least two subsequent broadcasts of the same message were heard and decoded at Wahroonga.  The AWA engineer in Wahroonga who decoded the Morse messages and entered the information into the AWY log book was Raymond E. McIntosh.   

The two official messages from London came from the Australian Prime Minister, the Honorable Mr. William M. Hughes and the Minister for the Royal Australian Navy, Mr Joseph Cook.  The Prime Minister's message applauded Australian troops in their gallant fight against the enemy in France; and the Minister for the Navy applauded Australian sailors for their gallant fight in the waterways around continental Europe.

So what happened afterwards?  Twenty seven years after this historic event, a memorial monument was erected in 1935 on the street corner in Wahroonga next to what had been the home of Sir Ernest Fisk.  ULTRA  Longwave wireless communication between England and Australia developed into shortwave radio communication.  The Marconi wireless station at Carnarvon continued in communication service for a total of  21 years, closing finally in 1939, and the properties were sold off. 

And we might add, that the Australian counterpart for Adventist World Radio is also located in Wahroonga.  The Adventist Media Center is located on Fox Valley Road, right opposite the Sydney Adventist Hospital, the largest privately operated hospital in the Australian state of New South Wales.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 500)

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